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Atlanta Jazz Festival collects major funding from car rental tax

Atlanta Jazz Festival, 2015

The 38th annual Atlanta jazz Festival culminates with a three-day event on Memorial Day weekend. Credit: City of Atlanta

By David Pendered

The 2015 Atlanta Jazz Festival is receiving 22 percent of its operating funds from the car rental tax. The month-long event culminates with a three-day celebration over Memorial Day weekend.

The 38th annual Atlanta jazz Festival culminates with a three-day event on Memorial Day weekend. Credit: City of Atlanta

The 38th annual Atlanta jazz Festival culminates with a three-day event on Memorial Day weekend. Credit: City of Atlanta

Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration initiated the proposal to provide the festival with $100,000 from the motor vehicle excise tax. The festival’s budget is $448,001, according to the city’s budget.

The expenditure represents 10 percent of the revenues collected through the rental car tax. This year, the tax is projected to bring in $964,579, according to the city’s budget. The tax revenues are to be used, “for the purpose of promoting industry, trade, commerce, and tourism in the city,” according to the legislation.

The Atlanta City Council approved the funding proposal unanimously at its May 4 meeting.

This is at least the second year the city has tapped into the car rental tax to help pay for the jazz festival. In 2014, the council approved a payment of up to $100,000 from the car rental tax.

The event is billed as the nation’s largest free jazz festival. The festival is sponsored by the city and is in its 38th year. Over the course of a month, it provides about 100 free events, and five events for which admission is charged, according to the legislation.

Atlanta Jazz Festival 2013

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, a major supporter of the Atlanta Jazz Festival, celebrates the launch of the 2013 Atlanta Jazz Festival with Alexandra Jackson (left) and Valerie Jackson. File/Credit: rollingout.com

The festival is intended to be self-sustaining. Sponsors help underwrite costs, and the city collects fees from vendors and the box office at the events that charge admission.

However, sponsorships waned during the great recession and have not recovered. According to the legislation:

  • “Due to a downturn in the economy, the amount of revenue generated from sponsorship has decreased significantly.”

Camille Russell Love, executive director of the city’s Office of Cultural Affairs, asked for the $100,000 from the car rental tax. According to the legislation:

  • “The executive director of the Office of Cultural Affairs desires that funds generated from the city’s motor vehicle excise tax in an amount not to exceed $100,000 is to be used for the projected expenses of the 2015 Atlanta Jazz Festival.”

The festival has a rich legacy.

It was established in 1978 by then Mayor Maynard Jackson. Today, the event is produced by the Atlanta mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs. According to the city:

  • “Atlanta Jazz Festival was established by Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson in 1978. The city’s commitment was to present a free jazz festival – straight ahead, avant garde, improvisational, harmonically and rhythmically complex and beautiful. It would showcase the best performers of “pure” jazz, eschewing the genre blends.
  • “As the genre has birthed many other forms, jazz still lives on and continues to evolve in its truest form. Atlanta Jazz Festival is one of the few places in the country where masses of music enthusiasts, families and culture lovers gather year after year to hear and experience this great American musical tradition.”

The year’s sponsors include Bank of America, Publix, PNC Bank, Cantoni, Lowes Atlanta Hotel, Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau, MARTA, Fontis Mountain Spring Water, Coca-Cola Co., American Family Insurance, Lavazza coffee, and Spam.


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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